Tourisme Charlevoix

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11 August 2022Mylène Simard

Log drivers: superheroes of times gone by

Pitounes, jams, a tourne-bille, a taureau, a jamdog, a pike and much more… it’s a vocabulary that brings back old memories of the rich history of log driving.

But what does log driving mean exactly? Well established in the Charlevoix region, the log drive is a set of activities involving the manipulation of tree trunks cut into billots (logs), floating them in the river for transport to the mill. Those who formerly practiced this perilous profession were called les draveurs (the log drivers).

From the start of the 20th century until 1987, the profession of log driver was intended just for men, and exclusively for robust, powerful, sturdy men… basically, Herculean. They were called upon to leave the family nest in the fall to return home only in the spring. They traveled very far into the forest in groups and lived in camps near the Rivière-Malbaie for that entire period. Every day, the log drivers went on the river to drive the many logs, sending them to their final destination, the paper mill, formerly La Donohue, located in Clermont. And yes, we are actually talking about driving logs on the river. These forest heroes spent long days risking their lives by walking across and jumping from one floating log to another with balance and agility to send the piles down the river using their long gaffs, all while trying to avoid falling into the freezing water.

Collection-Société-d’histoire-de-Charlevoix-1024x824 Photo : Charlevoix Historical Society Collection

As the wood traveled down the river and ice jams formed, it was necessary to find a quick and efficient way to dislodge the logs to keep supplying the mill. That was when the drivers resorted to dynamite. In 1958, the creation of the Érables dam in the Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie national park, was another effective means of avoiding jams as much as possible and to facilitate timber floating activities.

Collection-Société-d’histoire-de-Charlevoix-Guy-Godin-1984-1024x732 Photo : Charlevoix Historical Society Collection, Guy Godin, 1984

Finally during the 20th century, more efficient, ecological and less dangerous means replaced the log drive. In the past, some species of fish, such as salmon, had deserted the Rivière-Malbaie. Following the end of the log drive in 1987 and the seasonal floods, the river regained its original aquatic fauna, including the presence of salmon and brook trout.

In Charlevoix, even today, we remember this important era of the log drive in particular thanks to one of the region’s last log drivers, Robert Gaudreault, who has many artifacts on display at the Musée de la Drave (Log Drive Museum) located in the village of Saint-Aimé-des-Lacs. Menaud, a powerful symbol of the region, is also the name given to the very young distillery and brewery of Clermont. Also, you have certainly already heard a few snippets of the famous story of Menaud, master log driver from the novel written by Félix-Antoine Savard. Plus, the name of the very popular hiking trail, the Acropole des Draveurs, comes from a poetic expression by Savard.

Jonathan Bouchard Photo : Jonathan Bouchard

As a tribute during your next ascent in the Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie national park, spare a thought for these brave log drivers, who marked an important page in Charlevoix history!

Source: Le lexique de la drave, Desoctets, 2017

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